Love Supreme Festival 2018

Photo by Jonski Mason

Man, was it hot! The sixth edition of Love Supreme Jazz Festival was bathed in wall to wall sunshine for its duration, a veritable cauldron of baking summer sounds and party vibes emanating from all corners of the expanded site, in the pitch perfect setting of the expansive, gently rolling grounds of Glynde House. As one wide-eyed punter put it as they entered the arena, “This weekend is going to be sexy!”

For sure, clothing was liberally dispensed with, but it really was a tad too hot to engage in any other physical activity apart from the partying kind. With Love Supreme increasingly a magnet for all ages, it truly is a remarkably accessible music festival of very high quality for those who like to have a bit of fun, too.

East London MC Barney Artist is a relative newcomer, part of the thriving urban-soul scene in London that is currently headed by Tom Misch (more of whom later), with whom Barney has collaborated, along with another Love Supreme debut performer Alfa Mist. Along with a vinyl scratch DJ and backing tracks, he struts the stage in a fetching and matching yellow checked top and shorts (‘The Sunflower Guy’, as he informs us), performing the bass-heavy, house-infused ‘Something True’ and the deep and burbling ‘Stay Close’, one he initially recorded with Misch a couple of years back.

Love Supreme is ostensibly a jazz festival, but as we should all know by now soul, r’n’b, gospel, disco, funk, hip-hop, pop and all sorts of fusions make up the musical palette here. While the diversity is impressive – it has deserved comparisons with a festival like Glastonbury with regards to the eclectic sounds on offer – the one overriding factor is quality. There are no three chord wonders here, guitars, bass and drums are just a part of the make up. Yet jazz is still integral to the success and the atmosphere of the festival. Some of the best and most well-known players on the planet come here, one of them being vibes player Orphy Robinson, and his all-star team of musicians who include double bassist Alec Dankworth, saxophonist/flautist Tony Kofi, and trumpeter Byron Wallen, all leading lights in the resurgent UK jazz scene. They set the place alight with a hugely impressive and eclectic set that veers from serene jazz, to the manic, and via accessible bouncy rhythms. They are having a gas, laughing and smiling, and cajoling each other into some breathtaking virtuoso solos, the band finally walking off stage whilst still playing, in a carnival spirit, sweat pouring down their backs and foreheads. It’s a masterclass.

Extraordinary saxophonist Nubya Garcia was in Brighton recently for A Change Is Gonna Come, a one-off collaboration between her, Carleen Anderson, Speech Debelle and Nikki Yeoh. Here, she positively explodes along with ace pianist Joe Armon-Jones (of the Ezra Collective), Femi Koleoso on drums, and Daniel Casimir on double bass, the communal band performing a manic, super-tight and upbeat club-style set, with Armon-Jones and Koleoso in particular exuberant in their interplay; Garcia’s expressive playing hitting the sweet spot on such songs as ‘Fly Free’ and ‘Sauce’.

Over on the main stage Malian four-piece Songhoy Blues are the closest we get to a traditional guitar-based combo all festival, delivering a finely paced and fluid set of ‘desert-blues’: a fusion of rock, folk and blues. Headed by the charismatic and colourful frontman and guitarist Aliou Toure, and aided by the diverse guitar playing of Garba Toure, one who switches seamlessly from fingerpicking to nonchalantly full-on Jimi Hendrix-style histrionics, Songhoy Blues are equal measure tranquil and excited, and all points in-between.

Jack Steadman, aka Mr Jukes, has made one of the most successful musical transitions of recent years; from the indie-pop of Bombay Bicycle Club to a purveyor of old school funk, soul, and newer school trip-hop, with a set made up largely of tracks off his debut album God First. That album was strewn with guest singers such as De La Soul, Lianne La Havas and Horace Andy. Here, much lesser lights take over lead duties, including Barney Artist, with ‘Angels/Your Love’ and ‘Grant Green’ aided by a brass section and backing singers. Plus there are covers, such as Roy Horborough’s instrumental ‘Strasbourg Saint Denis’. Although lacking much in the way of stage presence, Mr Jukes makes up for that with an obvious love and skill in crafting vibrant music out of the age-old building blocks of funk and soul.

Mark ‘The Thumb’ King, along with keyboardist/singer Mike Lindup, remain the bedrock of Level 42, the band turning up the heat (and the volume) for a surprisingly upbeat and vibrant run through their hits, of which there were many back in the 80s and early 90s. Songs such as ‘The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)’, ‘Something About You’, ‘Lessons in Love’, and ’Hot Water’ sit alongside relatively unknown numbers such as the recent funk monster that is ‘Build Myself A Rocket’. Along with a terrifically explosive brass section, their funk is, well, damn funky, and they are playful little scabs too, incorporating a sneaky riff of ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ in the mix. The Thumb (God only knows what that was insured for in its heyday) is in good voice, too, and this was a brilliant booking, from a critically underrated band.

Now in his late 70s, Pharoah Sanders helped to turn me on to jazz when I witnessed him at one of the legendary Brighton Jazz Bops of the 90s. This was an opportunity to see him for probably the last time, Sanders not looking too healthy on the physical front, body hunched and shuffling across the stage. My God, though, when he took to the sax, shivers went down my spine: his control and agility a thing to marvel after all these years.

Despite his age, he is having a blast, his sideways cap a counterpoint to the spiritualism that emanates from his every pore, as he constantly bellowed “Alright!” into the mic, while encouraging a little audience participation from time-to-time, as he and his small ensemble of bass, drums and keys plough through some long musical journeys, from the riotous to the blissful. Lest we forget, Sanders was a member of John Coltrane’s band in the mid-60s. A Love Supreme indeed.

Instrumental ambient-jazz groovers Portico Quartet create a gorgeous atmosphere as darkness falls on Saturday night; hang, drums, keys, sax, electronics, double and electric bass combine to create both a spacious and dynamic sound that, like many of the jazzers here, fluidly moves through the gears from the serene to the cacophony. ‘Endless’, ‘Ruins’ and ‘Current History’ all exemplify their increasing sophistication and mastery of the art.

Meanwhile, Elvis Costello has written tonnes of sophisticated pop that has touched upon country, rock, and even jazz, which he no doubt loves, partly inspired by his relationship to world class pianist Diane Krall (about time she performed here, no?). However, he was recently diagnosed with “A small but very aggressive cancerous malignancy”, which has seen him cancel the rest of his tour while he recovers from the treatment. A voice that is naturally inclined to jazz and soulful pop, he runs through the old hits including ‘Radio, Radio’, ‘Oliver’s Army’, ‘Accidents Will Happen’, ‘Everyday I Write the Nook’, and ‘Alison’, some with his band, some just on piano or guitar. Yet, it’s noticeably a struggle for him. Then there’s a rather pointless karaoke cover of Charles Aznavour’s ‘She’, snuggling up to his brilliant ‘Shipbuilding’.

Costello as headliner was probably not quite the right move, the organisers perhaps not able to secure the appropriate headliner, so Saturday’s crowd was down on last year. However, Sunday had sold out long ago, and the place truly came alive with anticipation rising for headliners Earth, Wind & Fire.

Though, first, acid funk-jazz survivors James Taylor Quartet were the obvious show band to get things grooving early in the afternoon heat, with Taylor, his trusty Hammond Leslie, and band doing what they have done thousands of times before: dishing out the largely instrumental funk grooves, including the obligatory ‘JQT Theme’, ‘The Theme From Starsky and Hutch’, and a cover of Booker T’s ‘Time is Tight’.

It really is too hot to stick around and watch Zara McFarlane and her ten-piece band on the Arena stage, sweat literally pouring from my brow. After listening them do the epic calypso-jazz ‘Pride’, from her album of last year, I had to bail, deciding to cool down in the much airier and less crowded Big Top to check out Yazz Ahmed. Exemplifying the polygenesis of her London base, the Bahranian trumpeter and flugelhorn player combines jazz with Middle Eastern melodies and moods in creating a gently urgent instrumental foray, aided by six-string bass, drums, keys and percussion. It’s relaxing in the confines of the large Big Top, half the audience prostrate, soaking up the chilled sounds, with extended pieces such as ’Paradise in the Hold’, and ‘Organ Eternal’ layering up, breaking down, and hinging on some superlative interplay particularly between the drums and bass, despite the fact the band are all using sheet music and not used to playing as a large ensemble.

With Love Supreme slowly but surely becoming a magnet for the young, its music policy continues to reflect that demographic shift, and this year Tom Misch is the big draw, inviting a huge late afternoon crowd, the front rows filled almost exclusively by the under-25s. It’s all off the back of just the one album, Geography, plus a number of key one-off collaborations. While this talented singer, songwriter and guitarist has all the makings of a future star, he’s crucially toned down the adventurist spirit that informed his earlier work and collaborations, for an accessible foray down easy soul-funk street. ‘I Wish’, the bossa-inspired ‘It Runs Through Me’, the old school funk of ‘Everybody Get Down’, ‘Movie’ (which features his sister Polly, who amalgamates various film quotes in her spoken word segment) and the sunshine funk-soul of ‘South of the River’ are all easy listening on the ear, yet carry enough weight and authenticity to win over many of those not familiar with his work.

Mavis Staples has proved to be remarkably durable in her very long career that started way back in 1950 with her family group, The Staple Singers. Just last year she released the excellent Jeff Tweedy-produced (and largely written) If All I Was Was Black that helped to turn on those previously unaware of this living legend. With a simple set up of bass, guitar, drums and backing singers, Staples delivers a masterclass in gospel-soul-roots, her voice as controlled and powerful as always. ‘You’re Not Alone’, ‘Love and Trust’, and ‘We’re Gonna Make It’ are just some of the songs taken from her recent back catalogue, before she delves into her long gone past with rootsy-gospel-soul beauties such as ‘Touch A Hand Make A Friend’ and ‘I’ll Take You There’, guitarist Rick ‘L.A. Holmes’ Holmstrom providing much of the colour and texture.

Possibly the riskiest booking of the weekend was George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic, a mashing together of his two iconic bands, with p-funk, hip-hop and nu-metal fashioned into a hi-octane set that featured numerous singers, old and new, a selection of scantily clad female singers/dancers, and a couple of long time members including distinctive blond dreadlocked guitarist DeWayne ‘Blackbird’ McKnight. From hard edged hip-hop to elasticated p-funk, there’s some kind of order coming out of the carefully organised chaos, the poncho bedecked Clinton smiling his way through, and vaguely orchestrating the band with minimal effort it seems. Certainly the sheer motherfunkin’ loudness and occasionally sleazy undertow perplexed those who just didn’t know what to make of this unique carnival of black American music, but they did at least know some of the classics, such as ‘Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)’.

Which paved the way for the bona fide legends Earth, Wind & Fire, a band who one reviewer had accused of looking confused, but instead were cementing their reputation as one of the all-time disco-funk greats. They’re a large ensemble of superlative players, featuring their distinctive horn section and brilliant singers ranging from deep bass to otherworldly falsetto, all grounded by the strutting and super-charged original member, bassist Verdine White, along with band veterans Philip Bailey and Ralph Johnson. With very little in the way of breathing space, the band raced through a greatest hits package, beginning with ‘Sing-a Song’ and encoring with ‘In the Stone’. In between it was a celebration of the power of music, the odd left field moment such as a finger piano, and the sheer musical brilliance of the band, hits such as ‘Jupiter’, ’Shining Star’ and ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ paving the way for the stunning four song finale of ‘Fantasy’, ’Boogie Wonderland’, ‘Let’s Groove’ and ‘September’, sending the roadblock audience into the night, high on music.

Jeff Hemmings


{eventgallery event=”Love-Supreme-18″ max_images=6 offset=0 thumb_width=275}